A top French administrative court on Friday suspended the government’s decision to disband a climate activist movement following clashes with police during protests earlier this year.
France’s Council of State court ruled that the disbanding order would restrict the activists’ freedom of assembly and said the interior ministry did not provide enough evidence to back up its claim that the group is inciting violence.
“Neither the documents in the file, nor the discussions at the hearing, make it possible to consider that the grouping in any way endorses violent acts against individuals,” the court said in a statement.
Protests organized in March by the leaderless group Les Soulèvements de la Terre (“Earth’s uprisings”) against the construction of large water reservoirs led to violent clashes with police that left hundreds injured and two people in a coma.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin ordered the group to be disbanded following the incident, alleging the activists were inciting “ecoterrorism” across the country, and 18 people were arrested.
The climate movement decided to challenge the order in court, with the support of the French Greens and the far-left party France Unbowed, arguing that the disbanding order hampered their freedom of assembly and expression.
The court’s decision is a blow to Darmanin, as it means the activists can continue to organize demonstrations across the country, including a two-week march from Saint-Soline to Paris starting August 18 to protest the government’s water management policy.
But the ruling is also only the first step in a longer legal procedure, as it temporarily suspends the government’s disbanding order until the court can look into the merits of the case.
It is expected to give its final decision in the coming months on whether the group has been inciting violence and seriously disturbing the public order — as argued by the interior ministry — and should therefore be disbanded.
French parliamentarian Sacha Houlié, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s majority party Renaissance, stressed that the court’s decision “in no way legitimizes past or future violent actions.”
The activist group, created in 2021, counts more than 150,000 supporters and is made up of close to 200 local groupings. It has no clear leadership structure and isn’t officially registered as an association or a nonprofit organization — making it difficult to disband.
Les Soulèvements de la Terre has also staged protests targeting other big infrastructure projects like highways, railways and cement factories over their alleged negative environmental impact.
Party leader of the Greens in France, Marine Tondelier, welcomed the ruling and argued that the French government should address the country’s water scarcity problem rather than attack the activists ringing the alarm bell about it.
The former leader of France Unbowed, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, said today’s court decision shows “the legitimacy of civil disobedience is gaining ground” in the country.